Saturday, 28 January 2017

My Little Castle

Yes, well, January may not be the best time to chose to go away in this country but I have adopted the habit of taking a break during the first month of the year and so ...

This is Shute guesthouse, owned by the Landmark Trust and rented out to visitors.
Or, as I came to call it, my little castle.

I wasn't entirely sure when I first arrived.
Am I alone in feeling uneasy on the first night in a strange place? 
I've been to beautiful hotels, guesthouses, friends' homes, all over the world and that first night is always a time of feeling out-of-place, not-quite-right, ill-at-ease. So much so that I have been known to consider checking out in the middle of the night and making my way home - not always practical or feasible if I am in Iceland or, as once happened, a luxury hotel next to the beach in Tel Aviv.

Call me nuts...

Anyway, when I climbed the path at the side of the gatehouse and unlocked the heavy wood door the smell of faintly-musty, old-cooking, unaired-rooms was not welcoming and I really did consider getting back in the car and driving home. Except that it had taken me four hours to get to Devon and I had approached the journey much like a modern-day Columbus setting sail for the edge of the world, and I was not in a mind to retrace that drive back to the M5 and along the M4 and up the A34. 

Not without a cup of tea first.

I carried our luggage in, mine and the dog's, and dumped it by the front door. Ready for a middle-of-the-night flight, should that become necessary, and then climbed the stone spiral staircase to the top floor, because that's where the sitting room and kitchen are, at the top.

Two bedrooms on the first floor with a bathroom, sitting room and kitchen at the top.

And the dog loved the little window on the way up.
In fact, every time he padded up and down the stairs he paused to peer out.

And I was quite taken with the view upwards.

When I was first looking at houses in France my agent took me to a place in a field. It was, really, in a field. A stone house in a field. It was quite alarming, for one who had only ever lived on streets, to find a house in a field, and when I saw the bath full of dead spiders and the walls full of damp I was not keen at all, but it did have a spiral stone staircase and that almost sold me on it.

I am irrational like that.


 And then upstairs the sitting room was quite charming.
And once I had opened the windows to air the place and popped the kettle on for a cup of tea, I began to relax, a little.

And then I lit the stove.
I had bought smokeless fuel and kindling with me, be prepared, it was the wilds of Devon, after all, and I knew I would not be keen to venture forth to find shops, even if there should be any nearby, which I doubted.

There were, as it happened, but I had come with a siege mentality to this mini-castle and was happy to have brought all that I needed with me.

Pull up the drawbridge, I thought, we are safe and sound and none shall breach these walls!

Have I ever admitted to having a thing about fortresses?
Especially of the impregnable kind?

So the dog settled himself and got comfy. I knew that he would not be welcome on the chair, no-one likes smelly dogs on soft furnishings, so I had a waterproof rug and a throw for him.

And I cooked dinner.
Because cooking immediately makes me feel at home and relaxed, something to do with standing over a simmering pan and stirring...

I should have taken more pictures, suffice to say that the kitchen is in a turret and is tiny but perfectly equipped and spotlessly clean. Immaculately clean. Clean enough even for me, and I have been known to thoroughly clean kitchens in holiday accommodation before I will so much as pop a teabag in a mug...

And now I am giving the impression not only of being neurotically nervous but also obsessively clean, which I am not. I just like to be sure...

OK, maybe I am obsessively clean, blame the chemotherapy.    
When you are pumped full of poisons that destroy your immune system, along with your taste buds, the lining of your mouth, stomach and gut and all of your 'friendly bacteria', you tend to take food hygiene seriously.  

So, this is the window at the of of the stairs
Since it's the other turret you can see the size of the kitchen.

The third bedroom is in the tower.
I didn't take a look.
Truth to tell, I had so much trouble with the locks on the main door I wasn't keen to try opening up towers too.

So, there we were. Me and the dog.
Imaginary drawbridge pulled up, door locked, intruders barred.
Safely in our castle.
Fed, watered, walked and warmed.
Ready for a few days at the Jurassic Coast.

We would, I decided, stay after all.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Iceland Noir

I used to have very conservative tastes in reading.

The list of the books that I read last year shows that I have dipped my toe into more genres, especially of the dark and twisted type. Sometime in 2016 I discovered Nordic Noir and, having some Scandinavian genes on my mother's side of the family, and being a huge fan of Finland, I was hooked.    

And then I discovered a new, small publisher who was producing books from Icelandic authors and once I started to read them one thing led to another and before you could say Eyjafjallajökull  I was halfway up an Icelandic volcano on a horse.

Books have that effect on me.

So, last Wednesday I went to London to the launch of a book by the Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson. And being a little shy I could not pluck up the courage to speak to him so my son took this photo of the author and me.

That was ok, I was happy to be there and quite chuffed to see Ragnar in the flesh and to meet Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books and a few other people that I know only in the virtual world of Twitter and Facebook.

And although I used to hate having my photo taken, since the cancer diagnosis, well, my priorities have changed and now I don't mind so much.

I'm just happy to still be alive and to have hair again...

And it was lovely to catch up with my son and to have dinner together after the book launch. We should do it more. we agreed, especially if I get another late-night tour of his favourite spots in Soho.

So here's to Ragnar and his latest novel, Rupture.

From the shy little old lady with a special affection for it